Breaking up is hard to do, especially if you're talking about tracts of land in polygamous towns.
Colorado City, Ariz., home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is fighting efforts to subdivide lots there. A trust controlled by the state of Utah owns the lots and wants to sell them or give them away to people with a rightful claim.
The dispute returned to court in Arizona during the summer and has spurred court filings there and in Utah. On June 30, Colorado City asked a judge to declare whether state law or town ordinances are applicable and accused the trust of failing to provide maps and other documents and of not paying application fees.
Lawyers for the trust controlled by the state of Utah, called the United Effort Plan, accuse Colorado City of ignoring Arizona land use laws by refusing to approve the trust's subdivision plan.
The UEP also accuses Colorado City of violating a 2008 order from a Utah judge to not file more litigation against the trust. The UEP last month filed a motion in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City asking a judge to hold Colorado City in contempt. That motion, and the case in the Arizona court are pending.
In an interview Thursday, UEP attorney Jeff Shields said Colorado City didn't even have subdivision ordinances when the first proposals to divide property were filed in 2007. The current ordinances, Shields said, are too strict, sometimes requiring the UEP to install infrastructure like curbs, gutters and street lamps before the town will approve a subdivision, even though such improvements are rare in Colorado City.
"It's an attempt to keep outsiders out of the community," Shields said of the ordinances.
An attorney for Colorado City did not return messages seeking comment.
Since its inception in the early 20th century, the FLDS practiced a form of communal living with shared assets.
Entire town blocks in Colorado City and adjacent Hildale, Utah — collectively known as Short Creek — were registered as single parcels at the county offices, even though multiple homes or businesses may sit on them.
Utah seized the UEP in 2005 over concerns it was being mismanaged and people were at risk of losing its homes. The court-appointed fiduciary, Bruce Wisan, wants to give away homes to rightful claimants and sell commercial property as a way of eventually dissolving the trust.
This is not the first time the issue of subdividing Short Creek has gone to the courts. A similar dispute happened in Hildale, and was resolved last year when the Utah Supreme Court ruled in favor of the UEP. That court ruling focused on whether Hildale could challenge the subdivision in court after having missed deadlines to do so. The Utah Supreme Court ruling noted that Hildale did not challenge a lawsuit seeking to subdivide the town sooner because Warren Jeffs, president of the FLDS, instructed the town not to.
Since that ruling, the UEP has given away 30 homes in Hildale. The UEP still owns about 700 homes, and Shields said about two-thirds of them are in Colorado City. Those homes can't be given away or sold until the lots where they sit are subdivided, he said.
"Really, we need Colorado City to get going with this process," Shields said.
The subdivision dispute also is the latest in long-standing complaints that the municipal governments in Short Creek represent the interests of the FLDS Church and discriminate against people who do not follow it.
The U.S. Department of Justice in 2012 filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging the town governments discriminate. A trial is scheduled to begin in federal court in Phoenix in January.
Hildale and Colorado City are already under an order in a related federal lawsuit that bars the towns from discriminating. Shields on Thursday said the UEP plans to go to that federal judge in Phoenix and argue that Colorado City continues to discriminate.